Räikkö­nen’s F1 ca­reer hangs in the bal­ance

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

Unim­pressed by Kimi’s fail­ure to im­prove this sea­son, Fer­rari are now con­sid­er­ing a re­place­ment

Kimi Räikkö­nen will be dropped by Fer­rari – and will there­fore be out of For­mula 1 – for next sea­son un­less he man­ages a re­mark­able turn­around in form over the next few races.

No fi­nal de­ci­sion has been taken by Fer­rari on the fu­ture of the 2007 world cham­pion, nor about who his re­place­ment as Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s team-mate would be. But if Räikkö­nen is axed, Fer­rari’s pre­ferred re­place­ment is be­lieved to be cur­rent Red Bull team leader Daniel Ric­cia­rdo.

Fer­rari’s opin­ion of Räikkö­nen has changed fun­da­men­tally since the spring. Af­ter the first four or five races of 2015 both sides seemed happy, although the team had de­manded that Räikkö­nen im­prove his qual­i­fy­ing form.

Räikkö­nen was hap­pier with the feel of the new car than he was in 2014, when he was out­paced by then team-mate Fer­nando Alonso, and Fer­rari are con­tent with the more am­i­ca­ble re­la­tion­ship be­tween him and Se­bas­tian Vet­tel.

But Räikkö­nen’s qual­i­fy­ing form has not im­proved and his per­for­mances in Monaco, Canada and Aus­tria – where he was elim­i­nated in Q1 – have pushed Fer­rari to look else­where.

While Räikkö­nen is not quite as far off Vet­tel in qual­i­fy­ing as he was Alonso in 2014, the mar­gins are in the same re­gion – 0.47secs on av­er­age to Vet­tel this year, com­pared to just over 0.53secs to Alonso last year. Fer­rari have also been con­cerned by his two spins un­der power in Canada and Aus­tria, the lat­ter lead­ing to his first-lap elim­i­na­tion af­ter he was hit by Alonso’s McLaren. Equally, his be­hav­iour in qual­i­fy­ing in Aus­tria, where he made a mis­take, backed out of a lap, and then blamed the team for not com­mu­ni­cat­ing that he did not have time left for another fly­ing lap, did not go down well.

As­sum­ing the de­ci­sion to lose Räikkö­nen is taken, Fer­rari will tar­get Ric­cia­rdo first. Over the win­ter, Ric­cia­rdo signed a new three-year con­tract with Red Bull, and team boss Chris­tian Horner – who says Fer­rari “had a sniff” at Ric­cia­rdo in 2014 – says they would not con­sider selling him even if Fer­rari came call­ing.

Horner said: “We have a long-term multi-year agree­ment with Daniel.” When it was noted that he’d said sim­i­lar things about Vet­tel’s con­tract be­fore his move to Fer­rari, Horner clar­i­fied: “Daniel’s is struc­tured in a dif­fer­ent way than Se­bas­tian’s. He knows the team’s de­sire to be com­pet­i­tive and he be­lieves in the team and there is no risk or dis­cus­sion of him be­ing any­thing other than a Red Bull driver for a min­i­mum of three years.”

But given Re­nault’s strug­gles this sea­son, it is pos­si­ble that Ric­cia­rdo would want to move, in which case there is lit­tle Red Bull could do to keep him. They would be re­duced to ne­go­ti­at­ing a price with Fer­rari to buy out his con­tract.

Fer­rari’s only con­cern about Ric­cia­rdo is the po­ten­tially desta­bil­is­ing ef­fect sign­ing him might have on Vet­tel, fol­low­ing his strong sea­son as Vet­tel’s team-mate at Red Bull in 2014. That year Ric­cia­rdo won three races, while four-time cham­pion Vet­tel went with­out a sin­gle vic­tory.

Although there have been in­ter­nal ques­tions about whether Vet­tel is as fast as Alonso, over­all the team are ex­tremely happy with him, be­cause of his con­sis­tency, work ethic and the pos­i­tive ef­fect he has on the at­mos­phere within the team.

If Fer­rari can’t get Ric­cia­rdo, Force In­dia’s Nico Hülken­berg is also on their list, even though they are slightly con­cerned that he has been beaten by team-mate Ser­gio Pérez a few times. Mean­while, their in­ter­est in Wil­liams racer Valt­teri Bot­tas is un­der­stood to have cooled be­cause of his un­con­vinc­ing form against Felipe Massa this sea­son. The feel­ing at Fer­rari is that if Bot­tas can­not con­sis­tently beat Massa, he is not good enough to be a Fer­rari driver.

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